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Dorset walk around Arne and Poole’s Upper Harbour

PUBLISHED: 11:01 02 November 2015 | UPDATED: 11:01 02 November 2015

Shipstal Point

Shipstal Point


This two part walk through lowland heath, oak woodland, pine forest and tidal salt marsh, offers Edward Griffiths great views over the harbour’s many islands

Long Island viewed from Shipstal PointLong Island viewed from Shipstal Point

The RSPB’s Arne Nature Reserve is a sandy peninsula stretching out into the upper reaches of Poole harbour where tidal salt marshes provide perfect breeding and feeding grounds for innumerable birds. Arne’s paths and tracks take you to ancient oak woodland, pine forest, rare lowland heath, salt marsh, sandy beach, ponds and open water. In fact, Arne is famous for its lowland heath, a habitat that is rarer then tropical rainforest.

We have two walks here, both start at the RSPB Visitors Centre: one to Shipstal Point, the other over Coombe heath; you can combine the two for the longer 4 mile walk. Walk 1: the woodland walk to Shipstal Point offers spectacular views over Rempstone heath and Poole harbour’s salt marshes to Brownsea Island, Long Island, Green Island, Furzey Island, Round Island, Poole Docks and the distant harbour entrance. Note that depending on the where the tide is you may need to vary the walk slightly, but the route is clearly marked. Walk 2: On the Coombe heath route you have the bonus of spectacular views over the Purbeck hills.


• Distance: 2½ (3.75km), 1½ (2.5km) or combine both 4 miles (6.25km)

• Time: 1 to 4 hours

• Exertion: Not too strenuous. A few slight ascents but no stiles. Some mud after rain.

• Start: RSPB Nature Reserve Visitor Centre, Arne near Wareham (Grid Ref: SY972879)

• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195

• Public Transport: None

• Dogs: On leads at all times as this is a nature reserve

• Refreshments: Vast choice of inns, cafés and tea shops in Wareham

The walk

1 Walk One for Shipstal Point: Take the ‘Nature Reserve’ path past benches through the colour coded fence gap. For the Red Trail, take immediate-right along the fence to the Red and Green post (R/G from now on). Go up the stepped slope into the woods. At the top fork, take the left path. Descend slightly, becoming gorse edged with ancient oaks and deer-fence, then with a wide field left. After the path rises to a plateau with old pines, oaks and bracken, the path bends left. Pass a fallen oak. Becoming a boardwalk over marsh, pass a R/G post.

2 Off the boardwalk at a T-junction, turn right. Pass a R/G-post. Through more oaks, the track bends left with mudflats, Shipstal Point’s sandy cliffs, Hamworthy, Poole Docks, Long Island, Green Island and Nine Barrow Down in view. After another R/G post, there’s a choice of routes: If it is low tide, fork right down to the beach and follow it to the end wooden barrier, go up along right Shipstal Cottage’s garden fence, pass left cycle racks, a Green post and the cottage drive to reach a five-ways junction. Turn right for ‘Woodland Walk’. If it is high tide, keep straight on up the steps and path, past a left turn, past a R/G/Cliff Edge post, past a left Green path, past a R/G/Viewpoint post and more R/G posts. After the Viewpoint, go down the R/G steps and path to a five-ways junction. Cross into ‘Woodland Walk’. All back together again, now.

3 Past a Red/Yellow/Blue (R/Y/B) post and ponds, continue through woodland, passing another post and ‘Hide 270m’ sign. Past two more R/Y/B posts before a left bend, visit the bird hide to your right, then continue, passing another R/Y/B post before a fork. Go right. Pass a R/Y post and a left Yellow path rising into heathland. Pass a Red post, meandering with the harbour to your right, into old oaks and pines, then undulating past a Red post and a left Yellow path coming down. Continue past a R/Y post and up a wooded hill with a field below right. Meeting a left fenced field, follow the enclosed grass track over and down. Through the end half-gate into a gates’ junction, bear right up the Red/Yellow/Green (R/Y/G) signed Arne Farm track to a kissing-gate. Past the ‘Car Park’ R/Y/G post, turn left down the tree-lined lane, but visit St Nicholas’ Parish Church first. Through the ‘Residents’ gate, cross into the path back to the Visitor Centre.

4 Walk 2 over Coombe heath: Take the ‘Coombe heath Nature Trail’ opening by the car park entry gate, then the half-gate by the Grey post. Cross the long field to the 1½-gates beyond the marsh grass with pines behind them. Through, follow the track into the pines. Turn left at the Grey post and white arrow. Follow the track with heather and gorse right. Past a lesser left fork continue to the nearby fork, both with Grey posts. Go left. The right will be your return track. After the left ditch and bog in trees, rise with mossy banks and take the right fork up onto open heath with Creech hill, Corfe Castle and Nine Barrow Down ahead.

5 Undulating through heather, bracken and gorse, then seeing the harbour islands, reach a T-junction with the ‘Viewing Screen’ with views over Middlebere Lake left. Turn right. In 50 yards, the ‘hide’ is down a left trench path. Continue along the track over higher heath with several viewpoints. Around a right bend with a seat, continue over the heath and down into trees at a Grey post. Through, reach the fork where you came earlier. Now, follow the original track back to the white arrow post and turn right back into the field and back to the car park where you started.


Winter walks in Dorset - When the weather gets colder, there’s not much more refreshing than a brisk walk across the countryside, and there’s plenty of that here in Dorset...

Migrating birds to spot on Brownsea Island during autumn and winter - During autumn and winter Brownsea Island is the go-to destination for large numbers of migrating birds. Zac Furbank of Dorset Wildlife Trust introduces us to some of his favourites


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